On February 12, 2007 a report of the state of conservation of the five DRC World Heritage properties was submitted by the State Party. The report provides a short overview of on-going park management activities, but unfortunately does not provide detailed information on the implementation of the corrective measures.
Since November 2005, African Parks Foundation (APF) and the park management authority ICCN have been implementing an emergency action plan to regain control over the property and restore the management. The plan comprises many activities included in the recommendations of the 2006 UNESCO/IUCN mission and supports the implementation of the corrective measures adopted by the Committee at its 30th session. As a contribution to the implementation of the action plan, a 2-year budget of USD 300,000 is made available through the second phase of DRC programme. The contribution of the DRC programme has been focused on guard training, community conservation, infrastructure development and inventory work.
Since the start of the partnership between APF and ICCN, the situation of the park has continued to improve. Important investments were made in infrastructure rehabilitation, guard training and necessary equipment. A new anti-poaching strategy was developed with the creation of an elite guard regiment, well trained and equipped and composed of the best guards and new recruits as well as the installation of a permanently manned advance ranger base inside the property. The progress noted by the 2006 mission in regaining control of the property was further consolidated, in spite of the continued poaching pressure and insecurity in the region.
This is clearly demonstrated by the results of a recent aerial survey, conducted in April 2007. The objectives of the survey were to determine the status of the northern white rhino population as well as the status of other flagship species, in particular the giraffe, elephant and buffalo and to asses the signs of poaching activity. During the survey only four signs of hunting camps were found in the property, all of which were more that six months old. Other important indicators for the significant improvement of the situation are the complete absence of recent carcasses of elephants, rhino or buffalo, the discovery of the presence of elephants in the northern sector of the park, from where elephants had completely disappeared as a result of the intense poaching pressure and the closure of an open bushmeat market in the nearby town of Dungu.
The survey also was part of the efforts to establish the viability of the remaining population of northern white rhino, as requested by the Committee at its 30th session. Together with the aerial survey, an intensive terrestrial survey was organised in March 2007 in the areas where the presence of rhino’s was confirmed during and since the 2006 survey. During the aerial survey, no white rhino were seen. The terrestrial survey also did not make any direct observations of rhino but made seven indirect observations, six cases of spoor and 1 fresh urine mark. It is important to note that during both surveys, no new rhino carcasses were found. In fact, since November 2005, no new rhino carcasses have been found in the property. All traces of rhino were found in an area of extreme dense vegetation, where the grass had not been burned for three consecutive years. The results of the recent surveys seem to confirm that the remaining rhino population is extremely small and possibly limited to the four individuals observed since April 2006. This raises important questions about the continued viability of the population. A workshop including experts of the African Rhino Specialist group to discuss the viability of the population based on the current knowledge of the remaining individuals and using genetic modelling and to discuss possible management options was originally planned for May 2007 but had to be postponed because of the conflicting agendas of some of the experts. The meeting is now planned in September 17 to 18, 2007.
As explained in the Virunga report, the implementation of the corrective measures has been hampered by the organisation of the first multiparty elections in DRC, which dominated the public agenda since the 30th session. As many corrective measures require political decisions and commitments, little progress has been made so far on these issues.
Ensure the protection of the border between DRC and Sudan within and adjacent to the property;
Improve the efficiency of the military brigade posted around the property to secure the Park and adjacent hunting areas by replacing the current brigade by a brigade that went through the reunification and retraining programme and by ensuring they are adequately equipped ;
Undertake in cooperation with the United Nations Organization Mission to DRC (MONUC) a disarmament campaign within the communities living around the property whilst, at the same time improving the security situation in the region;
Little progress was made towards the implementation of these three recommendations. As a result of the election period, the priority for MONUC was on the facilitation of the organisation of the elections. Although no particular additional efforts were reported to secure the border areas in the property, the DRC army regiment stationed in Aba continues to ensure border security. The presence of the Uganda rebell group LRA in the region has increased vigilance at both the Sudanse and DRC side of the border. Recently, the Centre was also contacted by MONUC officials, seeking contact with the park authorities in view of the planned deployment of MONOC forces in and around park. This deployment, planned by the end of May 2007, will provide an excellent opportunity to develop a closer cooperation with MONUC in the area, including in the field of disarmement.
The recommendation to improve the efficiency of the military brigade posted around the property to secure the park was not followed up on by the State Party. In fact, following some important incidents with the local communities in which elements of the brigade were involved, ranging from theft to rape, the park authorities decided to halt all collaboration with the brigade in September 2006, as it was damaging the relations between the park and the communities. The military brigade was pulled out shortly afterwards.
Reinforce cooperation with the Government of Sudan to better control incursions of armed groups into DRC and the property;
With the new DRC Government only installed in February 2007, it was not yet feasible for UNESCO to undertake an initiative to organise a highlevel meeting between the concerned States Parties. However, it is important to note that recently an agreement was brokered between the Government of Uganda and the Regional Government of South Sudan to improve transboundary cooperation for the conservation of some protected areas in their border zones. The Centre has initiated contacts with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), who brokered the above mentionned agreement, to develop a similar agreement with DRC for the region of the property. WCS has already contacted the authorities of Souh Sudan in charge of Wildlife and Conservation, which have expressed their willingness to tackle transboundary poaching. WCS is currently carying out aerial surveys across the whole of south Sudan and has included Lantoto National Park, situated north of Garamba, on their list of priorities.
Ensure that the ICCN guard force is properly equipped and, in particular, has adequate arms and ammunition;
Take urgent measures to reinforce and reinvigorate the Garamba guard force;
Continue and strengthen anti-poaching efforts, in particular in the southern sector of the Park where the presence of northern white rhino was confirmed by the 2006 survey;
In the framework of the emergency action plan, important efforts were undertaken to strengthen the aniti-poaching efforts in Garamba and in particular in the areas where the presence of rhino was confirmed. Twenty new guards were recruted, increasing the number of operational elements to 119. In cooperation with Frankfurt Zoological Society, the newly recruited guards and another twenty existing guards were trained in the guard traning centre in Ishango in Virunga National park. In October 2006, an intelligence unit was also created and trained, which allows a much more pro-active approach in anti-poaching activities. The anti-poaching team was equiped with new uniforms, camping equipment and personal equipment. Anti-poaching services now dispose of two Land Cruisers and three Unimog trucks (of which, one funded through the DRC programme). Radio communications between anti-poaching teams were improved and aerial surveillance in support of their operations is carried out daily. Access to the park was improved through the re-opening of 291 km of tracks, including 39 km in the northern sector, which had been abandonned for more than 20 years, facilitating a quick deployemnt of the guards. Whilst most anti-poaching activities concentrated on the southern part of the park, since September, increasingly patrolls are also covering the hunting areas and the northern sector. A problem remains that of the presence of many guards past the age of retirement, incapable of continuing the strenous anti-poaching work, because of the inability of the State Party to cover their retirement benefits and as well as the lack of adequate arms and ammunition.
Strengthen efforts to improve relations with the local communities surrounding the Park, particularly through developing and implementing a community conservation programme;
A community conservation initiative was set up by the park authorities. So far, ten rural development projects were funded and another 11 projects are awaiting final approval. With assistance from the DRC programme, Fauna and Flora International (FFI) developped a community conservation strategy for the park. Based on this strategy, the Centre and FFI prepared a proposal for a 2-year community conservation project in Garamba. The proposal was submitted to the Government of Italy and the Centre is currently awaiting its approval. 15 local conservation and development committees (Comités Locaux de Conservation et Développement) were installed, as a constant concertation framework between the park and local communities. A dialogue committee (“Comité de dialogue”), consisting of the members of the administrative board of the park, the person in charge of the community conservation programme and the three local traditional leaders was also set up.
Reinstate detailed monitoring of the rhino population in the property through a specialized monitoring team, building on the know-how available in ICCN and AfRSG;
Following the 2006 monitoring mission, the park authorities created a research and monitoring unit, headed by an assistant conservator with experience in rhino monitoring. Two 3 week training sessions on monitoring techniques with a special emphasis on rhino monitoring were undertaken. Two teams of rhino monitoring rangers are now operational, regularly surveying the southern sector of the park. In March 2006 and 2007, intensive terrestrial ground surveys were done in the Gangala na Bodio hunting area and the rhino sector of the park. Furthermore, in 2006 the APF plane flew 118 hours for aerial survey work. Further efforts will be deployed to improve the data analysis skills of the survey team.
Establish a trust fund for the rehabilitation of the DRC World Heritage properties;
See report Virunga National Park.
As requested by the Committee, the Centre contacted the CITES secretariat requesting their assistance in investigating the trading networks and countries of destination of ivory poached in the Park and other DRC sites. Details are provided in the report on Okapi Wildlife Reserve.
So far no benchmarks or timeframe were established. UNESCO in cooperation with IUCN is currently discussing with ICCN the development of benchmarks. It is proposed that these benchmarks will be developed after the planned workshop on the viability and management of the remaining population of northern white rhino.
In relation to funding for the property, the conservation work in the park is currently supported through APF, the European Union, UNESCO and the government of Italy as well as FFI and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). Further funding is expected through the planned World Bank GEF programme for DRC.